Baron Davis, the popular superintendent of Richland School District Two in suburban Columbia, South Carolina, since 2017, resigned Tuesday night following a closed-door school board meeting that lasted close to six hours, several news outlets have reported.
Though Davis, the district’s first Black superintendent, just had his contract extended in a 4-3 vote in September, all four school board members who approved the extension no longer held those seats following November elections. The three board members who voted against the extension remained, however, along with four newly elected board members.
The unanimous vote to accept the resignation followed the closed-door session, which had no public comment, The Post and Courier reports. No official reason has been given for the departure.
Davis’ resignation comes just a month after Shelley Allen, the district’s chief financial officer, announced she would resign Jan. 27. In a December resignation letter, Allen praised Davis’ leadership but cited “politics, personal agendas and individual preferences of board members and community members” as well as a November state Inspector General’s report that she said continued to exemplify misdirected focus on how to address issues facing the district.
Davis declined on Thursday to comment on his resignation to K-12 Dive. Richland Two was named K-12 Dive’s District of the Year in 2021.
Among the findings in its investigation of Richland Two, the South Carolina Office of Inspector General said the school board focused on academic items in just 14.2% of board items over the past four years. The inspector general also said that a unified board would have greater impact on helping the district rebound academically from COVID-19, that the board’s behavior “had a deleterious effect on District operations and human capital management,” and that some members used personal email addresses and phones to conduct personal business.
In addition, the report found that current board member Lashonda McFadden failed to reimburse the district in a timely manner for unused travel advance funds and had received a no contact letter from Davis due to public behavior and verbal confrontations.
Additionally, Davis’ Premier 100 initiative — which aimed to improve recruitment, training and retention of Black male educators — was cited in the report as potentially running afoul of state and federal law for “providing bonuses and professional development to candidates based on race, national origin, and gender” despite the “laudable goal” of diversifying teacher ranks. The report also questioned whether 49 bonus checks totalling $11,250 that had been paid out by the district’s foundation in connection with the initiative had been included on recipients’ W2s or had taxes withheld.
Davis had proven to be a popular superintendent during his tenure. Earlier in January, over 60 community members showed up to a board meeting to express support amid concerns he would be fired or pressured to resign.
His resignation comes at a time when concerns are growing in communities nationwide that effective and popular leaders could be removed by school boards for political reasons. In the past month, two school boards in California’s Orange County have voted to remove their districts’ leaders with little notice or explanation.
Superintendent turnover has also skyrocketed 46% between the two-year spans of 2018-2020 and 2020-2022, according to an ILO Group report released in December. Of the nation’s 500 largest districts, 246 saw leadership changes between March 2020 and September 2022.